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First-year teams make progress

However difficult, however tedious, the teaching continues at Middleton and Freedom.

By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 23, 2002

TAMPA -- Middleton coach Harry Hubbard rewound and watched the play from his team's game against Berkeley Prep over and over: sophomore Germain Lewis' 10-yard scramble to the right side of the end zone.

An assistant in the back of the room got Lewis' attention: That's big time, Germain. Hey! That's big time right there.

It is big time in the precocious world of first-year teams Middleton and Freedom, who meet in their last varsity game Friday at Wharton. They started their seasons by learning how to strap on their helmets, and now look. They are scoring touchdowns.

The players are young, but they said they know what others are thinking.

"People have the audacity to call them sorry," Hubbard said. "They can't be sorry because they are out there working hard and trying to perform their best every day."

At Freedom, coach Jarrett Laws is throwing up his hands, rolling his eyes with his whole head, screaming ... anything to cut through the Patriots' confusion. He still is teaching them how to run certain plays, he said, but it beats teaching them how to line up. "We're not blessed with the fastest or the strongest or the most athletic," Laws said.

"But there's an intangible that you're going to see in the coming years. We have heart. We care more than any group I've ever been a part of."

For several games, Hubbard and Laws have worked mostly with freshmen and sophomores, some of whom had never played organized football before this year.

Both declined to say if it has been particularly easy or hard, though neither seemed ready to trade the experience for anything.

The Patriots are 0-4 in varsity games, but they beat all three junior varsity teams they have played, which Laws said is "par for the course."

Middleton beat Freedom 25-6 to open the season Sept.6 and Berkeley 38-19 on Friday and is 2-2 in varsity games. However, it still has far to go.

Even after last week's victory, Hubbard still must explain things such as, "Keep playing until the whistle blows," "Block someone -- anyone -- in a different colored jersey," and "Don't look up or you'll get your teeth knocked out," on punts.

It has been a long, tedious road for the Patriots and Tigers. If they don't share anything else in common when they line up against each other Friday, they will share that.

And they might be the only ones on their schedules who respect it.

The Tigers will look out for the Patriots' energy and discipline. The Patriots will look out for the Tigers' speed.

"Their team speed is indescribable," Laws said. "It's phenomenal."

In their world, it really is.

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